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My personal experience of Chinese

by extrapolating from Mandarin and Cantonese

Formulation of my Hakka Romanisation and comparisons to CF Lau's Conventions

As a Hakka speaker, living in a country which has a small minority of chinese, so far apart from other similar folk, there are not many resources to learn the Chinese Character language. My first dictionary of Chinese was a bilingual edition with the chinese in the old Wade form of Romanisation. My father used to teach my sister and I some words every weekend. But as a child, there were far more interesting things to do. However, the dictionary proved to be very useful. After reading and recognising some more of the words, I found that there were links to the Wade pronunciation and my own Hakka sounds. There were puzzling oddities such as the loss of end sounds p,t,k or b,d,g in the Wade system, and the -ng ending that appeared in the dictionary when my own Hakka ended the sound with an -n, and the mutation of the Hakka k sound to the mandarin ch'- or j- sound. Of sourse the Wade system was toneless, and that provided me the freedom to disastrously apply my own invented tones!

Later after persuading my cousin to buy me some new dictionaries, I met the Pinyin romanisation. This was strange because there were no longer the apostrophes that determined the aspiration of the letter p,t,and K etc. Here was a new and unusual method. There were distinctions between c,s,sh,x,z,zh. Since I had nobody to hear speak Mandarin, I was at a loss. However, the words themselves in character form always had the pronunciation in PinYin beside it. This was very helpful, in that I could apply the same method of observation to this new system.

I went to university to study Physics many moons ago when I was younger. There in the university library were a veritable feast of books. I took out one after another, and after getting through the first few chapters of each managed to cobble together a few hundred characters I could write by heart. I discovered John DeFrancis' Chinese Readers there, and I am much indebted to its easy pace and flow. It is somewhat repetitive, and mind numbingly boring, but acquiring words and characters by sheer bombardment of the brain was its aim. Tragically though, the university had Beginning Chinese Reader Part I, BCR Part II, Intermediate Chinese Reader Part I and Advanced Chinese Reader; there was a book missing in its collection : Intermediate Chinese Reader Part II. A stroke of immense luck led me to find it in the city's Central Lending Library. It was all alone just ICR P.II there on the shelf. In the end of the course, the book aimed to let the student know 1200 characters, which by frequency of appearance in modern newspapers and journals, accounted for a staggering 91.3% of the 4719 characters in common usage. So for your money, it was very worthwhile. The remaining 8.7% less frequently used characters would account for 3519 characters. Clearly a hard feat for such little reward.

After a spell in Hong Kong I was able to acquire a small working knowledge of Cantonese. I bought Roy T. Cowles' "A Pocket Dictionary of Cantonese", Hong Kong University Press 1992. This was also in a romanisation not too disimilar to the Wade system. It included tone markings too, and there are 9 of them. Variously, some other publications have given Cantonese 7 and others 9 tones. Since, like Hakka, Cantonese retains may more of the endings, it was a good guide to the Hakka language. Since I neither speak Cantonese or Mandarin, let alone write it with anything better than a child would, this dictionary gave me a link in which I could extrapolate the sounds of Cantonese to Hakka sounds so as to find the character that I would be looking for.

Since there was the problem that I did not have a large command of characters, I tried then to write down all the Hakka word sounds I could think of. I had a sheet of paper and wrote down the alphabet and then worked through it. It was very frustrating since I sould write a sound many different ways. After returning to England I had to look at the way I wrote the words. There was a beginning and an ending to the words that could be grouped separately. After a while I arrived at the "initials" list ,

a, b, ch, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, ng, o, p, s, sh, t, td, ts, u, v, y, z.

Then there were about 40-odd endings too, which after some rationalisation, grouped in the order of the vowels.

a, ai, ak, am, ang, ap, at, au,
e, em, en, ep, et,
i, ia, iak, iam, iang, iap, iau, im, in, io, ioi, iok, iong, ip, it, iu, iung,
o, oi, ok, on, ong, ot,
u, ui, uk, un, ung, ut

The other version to this allowed p,t,g and b,d,k to be used as alternative endings, and that ao and au are the same. E.G. ~iok = ~iog, ~at = ~ad etc. Now there was the determination of the sounds of the vowels themselves. At around the same time as I was in Hong Kong, I had much more access to Japanese material too. This gave me a new angle on things. The japanese kana syllabaries are chanted -a -i -u -e -o and these gave rise to my short vowels. They are found to be in the english words, cat, sit, put, get, and hot. This was unsatisfactory by itself.For words ending in a long vowel sound, I had to define theses too. These are

a rhyming with tar
e rhyming with air
i rhyming with tea
o rhyming with core
u rhyming with glue

So the only thing remaining was the tone of the words. This puzzled me a lot. I am not a linguist so that may be why I could not fully realise the tone markings in the other dialects. Anyhow, after reading Hakka Dialect by Mantaro J. Hashimoto I was further puzzled. On 16 August 1997 C.F. Lau (aka Liu3 Zin2 Fad5) wrote me a fortuitous e-mail.

Dear Mr. Sung,

I am a researcher on the Hakka dialect in Hong Kong, and I am myself a

Hakka. I got your information on the Hakka dialect in Sateugog (Sa Tdiu gok

in your transliteration). It is very useful for me. I have many questions

about the accents of Hakka spoken in Hong Kong, and your homepage helps me a

lot. Now I have still a few questions:

(1) Do you know your geneology beyond the end of Ming Dynastry, say, where

are your ancestors at the end of Song Dynastry?

(2) I do not know how much you mangage the international phonetic symbols,

because your coding is quite inconvenient for me. I usually describe a Hakka

syllable as aspirated or unaspirated: say kiu (old) is aspirated, giu (nine)

is unaspirated. There are altogether five pairs of aspirations in my accent:

b/p, d/t,g/k, ts/dz, f/v. I live in Vangtoisan, Bat-hiong. I was born in

1957 is about the same age as you, but I speak head as teu (not tdiu), pail

as tung (not tdung). Therefore, I want to know if "td" in your spealling is

aspirated or not?

(3) Also, I speak car as tsa (not ta), seven as tsit (not tit). My "ts" is

like the z in German, as in zehn (ten), Zahn (tooth). Does your "t" sounds

like tea as in English?

(4) As I can see, your ts is "dz" in my accent.

(5) The other spellings agree well with our tongue in Vangtoisan. I think

you may also meet some of our villagers in England and you can observe their

accent. I do not know how many people you know are speaking your accent,

because it seems that it has a Min dialect influence.

(6) Your did not put the tone value in your spelling. It is not very

difficult to count. For example, the first to sixth tone in my accent is

represented by:

fun1 (divide), fun2 (grave), fun3 (powder), fun4 (portion), fud5 (hole in

the ground), fud6 (budda)

(7) Finally, can you tell me if your mother also speak the same accent of

Hakka as yours (and your father's)? Do you also speak Cantonese?

I am waiting for your answers. If you are interested, I can send you my

pinyin input system of the Hakka dialect.

Yours sincerely,

Lau Chunfat (my name is spelt in Cantonese).

I then reviewed Hashimoto's work again and then it struck me. There are long sounds and short sounds, named as legato and staccato respectively by him. Short sounds ended in either ~p, ~t, ~k or ~b ~d ~g, whilst all other ending types were long sounding. There are are only two staccato tones in my dialect - low and high (tones 5 & 6) Tones 1, 2, 3, and 4, were somewhat different. I terms of highest pitch to lowest pitch, the order should be 4, 1, 3, 2 or if you want lo think of 1234, the outside first right (4) then left (1), then inside right (3) and left (2).

That's it. Everything can now be transcribed in a romanised form including the tones.

Recently I found a copy of C.F. Lau's input method. It is zipped up and I have put it in my website for free distribution as requested by C.F. Lau. In it I have deduced that we are actually using a very similar transcription method.

Notice that in his e-mail to me that he has written SaTdiuGok as Sateugog. Here, his 't' is my 'td' and his 'eu' is my 'iu', the unaspirated 'g' is my k. Further, I have linked the following list.

Lau's convention appears first then mine after the "=" sign.

c = t
j = ts
q = ch
t = td
x = sh
y = z
z = ts

End consonant

b = p
d = t
g = k


ao = ao
eu = iu
ian = en*
iad = et*
iag = ek*
ieu = iau

*in certain cases.

In the intials, Lau is aiming for a singular consonant to embrace the double consonant that I have used so making input keys less. Comparing the ending romanisation found in Cowles' Cantonese dictionary, my method shows the similarity in Hakka to Cantonese more clearly, in that where there is a ~k ending, there is usually a ~k ending in the cantonese etc, instead of Lau's ~g. But that is of little significance.

The Hakka Syllabary in these pages were written before I had a clear understanding of the tone system, which like the Wade system leads to unusual spoken results. I may have also used alternative spellings to such as ~ao = ~au, "ted = "tet". They were first compiled on a 286 pc computer with software written with Fortran 77 (very ridgid and not flexible with text manipulation) in 1995. The words as they are, are as a result of applying the 'initials' list against the 'endings' list and varying the tonal pronunciation of the sound.

Lau Chun Fat's Hagfa in BIG5, printable in 12 pages
SaTdiuGok Romanisation : SaTdiuGok Syllabary Dictionary
Back to Hakka Links : Back to Dylan's Homepage
This page was last updated on Fridday 24th October 1997.
©Dylan W.H.S. 1996-1997
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